Skip over navigation

The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

Chapters Eight–Nine

Chapter Seven: How They Eat in Heaven

Chapters Ten–Eleven

Summary—Chapter Eight: The Miracle of Dog Doo Park

“I have always thought you had a wonderful way with words,” he said. “You don’t need to go fishing for big words in the dictionary. You are poetic, mi’ija.”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Taylor and Lou Ann sit with Turtle and Dwayne Ray in Roosevelt Park, which the local kids call Dog Doo Park. Much to her dismay, Taylor has just found out that her mother plans to marry Harland Elleston, who works at a paint and body store. Lou Ann tells Taylor she should feel good that her mother has enough life in her to marry again, and she accuses Taylor of disliking men. Taylor disagrees, thinking longingly of Estevan. Lou Ann reminisces about her excitement when she first met Angel. The wisteria vines in the park that once seemed dead now bloom a beautiful purple, and Taylor relates them to a biblical story about water pouring out of a rock. Turtle sits in the dirt saying the names of vegetables. Edna Poppy and Mrs. Parsons walk by, and Taylor jokes with Edna, who is wearing all red, as she always does. Mrs. Parsons mentions that Angel stopped by Lou Ann’s house this morning while Lou Ann was out. When Taylor asks, Lou Ann says that if Angel wanted to, she would let him move back in.

One day, Taylor tries to apologize to Estevan for Mrs. Parson’s rude comments about immigrants. He says that she is like most Americans, who think that if something bad happens to someone, that person deserves it. Taylor and Estevan compliment each other’s speech: Taylor loves Estevan’s impeccable English, and he thinks her Kentucky accent and expressions are poetic.

Taylor slowly begins to understand what Mattie meant when she called her shop a sanctuary. People come and go often and quietly, and Mattie frequently leaves for days at a time, “going birdwatching”—that is, looking for people who need a safe place to hide.

Taylor decides to take Turtle to the doctor on account of her history of abuse. When the nurse assumes Taylor is Turtle’s foster mother, Taylor does not correct her assumption. Dr. Pelinowsky determines that Turtle stopped growing as a result of her abuse, a condition called “failure to thrive.” He shows Taylor x-rays of Turtle’s compound fractures and says that although he assumed Turtle was two years old, the x-rays indicate that she is actually three. When Taylor protests that Turtle has been growing of late, he assures her that failure to thrive is a reversible condition. While he talks, Taylor looks out the window into the garden, where a bird has made a nest in a cactus.

After they go to the doctor, Taylor and Turtle meet Lou Ann at the zoo. Taylor learns that Angel came back to tell Lou Ann he is leaving for good to join a rodeo on the Colorado-Montana circuit. Lou Ann accuses Taylor of taking Angel’s side, but Taylor explains that if she criticizes Angel now, Lou Ann will resent her if Angel ever returns. Over the course of their conversation, Taylor refers to the month of April. Turtle looks up quickly, and the women realize that Turtle’s real name is April.

Summary—Chapter Nine: Ismene

Esperanza attempts suicide by swallowing a bottle of aspirin, and Estevan comes to tell Taylor the news. While Mattie takes Esperanza to a clinic, Taylor keeps Estevan company in her house. Taylor realizes that in times of crisis, she “fall[s] back on good solid female traditions,” and she tells Estevan she will either keep feeding him or keep talking. He tells her to talk. They sit next to each other on the couch and talk, and Taylor feels terribly attracted to Estevan. She tells a story about a classmate, Scotty Richey, who electrocuted himself on his sixteenth birthday. She explains the cliques at her high school. At the top of the social ladder came the town kids, then the motorcycle crowd, then the farm kids (her group), who were called Nutters because they earned money by picking walnuts. Taylor says that even the Nutters had one another, but Scotty did not fit in anywhere. Suddenly, she gets angry at Esperanza, who, unlike Scotty, had someone, but nevertheless tried to kill herself.

Estevan talks about torture techniques used in Guatemala. He tells Taylor that the police use telephones to shock sensitive body parts with electricity. Estevan implies that Taylor has chosen to ignore these horrors, and she defends herself, saying she does not approve of America’s policies and often feels like a foreigner in Tucson, coming as she does from a place were “they use dirt for decoration and the national pastime is having babies.” Estevan tells her she does not know what Esperanza has lived through. He tells Taylor that he and Esperanza had a daughter named Ismene, who was taken in a raid on their old neighborhood. Estevan’s and Esperanza’s membership in the teacher’s union made them targets, because they knew twenty people in the union and the government wanted the names of those people. The government wanted to keep them alive since they had valuable information, so it took Ismene to bait Esperanza and Estevan into handing over the names. Esperanza and Estevan chose saving their fellow union members’ lives over getting their daughter back, and they fled to the United States. Estevan says that captured children such as Ismene get adopted by families who can afford to care for them—military or government couples. Taylor cries.

Turtle wakes up and joins them. Taylor sees herself, Turtle, Estevan, and the cat, and thinks about a family of paper dolls she had when she was little. She says she longed for the family the dolls had, which was so far beyond her grasp. She thinks that if the world were different, the four of them on the sofa could be the perfect Family of Dolls. Turtle goes back to bed, and Taylor and Estevan sleep on the couch. Estevan and Taylor curl up together in their sleep, but when Taylor wakes and thinks of all Esperanza has suffered, she kisses Estevan’s hand and goes to her own bed alone.

Analysis—Chapters Eight–Nine

In Chapter Eight, the motif of beauty springing from ugly places recurs. The chapter title, “The Miracle of Dog Doo Park,” refers to the blooming wisteria, which appears dead but one day sprouts beautiful flowers. Taylor remarks that the miracle satisfies her even more than the biblical story about water springing from a rock. The story she refers to takes place in the desert when God enables Moses to draw water from a rock to save the Israelites. Taylor and Lou Ann, like the Israelites, find themselves in the desert. Their miracle provides them not with the physical sustenance of water, however, but with the spiritual sustenance of beauty.

Lou Ann and Taylor continue to think of men in different ways. Lou Ann accuses Taylor of thinking “man was only put on this earth to keep urinals from going to waste,” and Taylor cannot come up with a man she respects other than Estevan. In contrast, Lou Ann demonstrates her traditional mindset about men and marriage. She flutters with excitement at the thought of Taylor’s mother’s impending marriage, and when asked if she would take Angel back, responds, “What else could I do? He’s my husband, isn’t he?”

In several ways, Taylor grows up in Chapter Nine. She finds out about the horror of Esperanza and Estevan’s past; she admits to herself her feelings for Estevan; she begins to think about men more objectively; she understands that compared to Esperanza, who has been through so much with her husband, she has no claim on Estevan.

Hearing the horrors of Estevan’s past creates a crisis for Taylor. For the first time, she truly comprehends the capacity for cruelty in the world. It seems as if we are meant to agree at least partially with Estevan’s idea that Taylor has chosen not to understand the horrors in other countries. We have seen in previous chapters that Taylor can ignore what it might pain her to understand. At the same time, her spirited self-defense rings true. She might be ignorant, but she has a good heart and can identify with the refugees’ feeling of being lost.

At the same time that Taylor admits that she is attracted to Estevan, she begins to think about men less cynically. For the first time, she expresses a longing for a conventional, nuclear family. When she thinks of her Family of Dolls and sees herself on the couch with a man and child, the idea of a traditional family appeals to her. The fact that Taylor chooses to leave Estevan and go to her own bed demonstrates her strong character. It also demonstrates, perhaps, her new respect for Estevan’s family. Estevan already has a real version of the family Taylor imagines for herself, and she does not want to intrude on that. Also, Taylor recognizes Esperanza’s claim as wife and mother. When Taylor learns how Esperanza lost her child, she immediately responds and acts loyally to Esperanza partly because of their common bond of motherhood. We see the intensity of Taylor’s sympathy for Esperanza when she imagines Esperanza’s pain made into a burning pile, centered around a child who looks like Turtle. The power of this vision makes Taylor get up and leave Estevan.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us